Georgia’s D-line and O-line making each other better

Georgia defensive lineman Nazir Stackhouse (78) has proved to be hard to handle for the Bulldogs' offensive line in preseason camp.  (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

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Georgia defensive lineman Nazir Stackhouse (78) has proved to be hard to handle for the Bulldogs' offensive line in preseason camp. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

ATHENS — There were a few positives to be found underneath coach Kirby Smart’s somewhat negative take on Saturday’s scrimmage. Namely, it’s a good thing that Georgia doesn’t have to play itself during the regular season.

As it is at the moment, the Bulldogs have only each other to face during preseason practice, which grinds on for a third week this week. When the No. 1s go against the No. 1s, well, it’s not always pretty.

That certainly was the case when the discussion turns to Georgia’s offensive-line performance Saturday during the first scrimmage of the preseason at Sanford Stadium. Smart verified what those who observed it concluded – that the defense looked to be ahead of the offense overall and particularly in the area of line-of-scrimmage play.

Again, there are some silver linings to be found within that determination: One, the defense almost always is a little ahead of the offense early in the preseason, especially with a group of defenders that returns eight starters from unit that allowed only 14.3 points per game during a 15-0 season a year ago; two, Georgia’s defensive line is a stout group led by experienced upperclassmen; and, three, the Bulldogs’ offense remains an unfinished product in the midst of a minor rebuild and has much time to work out the kinks.

Smart acknowledged as much while still wiping the sweat from his brow immediately after the two-hour scrimmage that was conducted amid a 105-degree heat index.

“I feel like we’ve got seven or eight guys that can play winning football, but I don’t know that we got their best effort,” Smart said during his briefing at the Butts-Mehre football complex. “Like, if you just said, ‘I’m going to grade our O-line on their practices so far,’ and then, ‘I’m going to grade them on this practice,’ I would’ve argued the practices up to this point have been a little better and a little more dominant than they maybe were today – at least in the run game, maybe not in the pass game. I’m pleased with the leadership of both those groups. I’m not pleased with, like, where we are.”

Here’s the good news: The defensive line that Georgia’s offense was facing Saturday is a grizzled, salty bunch. In the middle of it is 6-foot-3, 320-pound senior Nazir Stackhouse, a three-year letterman and a 15-game starter at nose guard a year ago. To one side of him is 6-5, 310-pound tackle Zion Logue, also a three-year letterman and a six-game starter last season. To the other side of Stackhouse was 6-4, 305-pound senior Warren Brinson and his 34 games of his experience. Running in and out was 6-3, 270-pound defensive end Tramel Walthour, a sixth-year senior who has started 13 games and played in 40 with the Bulldogs, plus a season at junior college.

While there aren’t necessarily any Jalen Carter-caliber playmakers in the bunch, those four players brought onto Dooley Field on Saturday 154 games of combined SEC football experience. And there might be some Carter types among the underclassmen, who presently are still learning the ropes from D-line coach Tray Scott.

On offense, Georgia is breaking in a pair of new starters at tackle, not to mention a new quarterback. On Saturday, the Bulldogs remained thin in the backfield because of injuries at running back.

The result: Smart said the Bulldogs’ No. 1 offense went three-and-out on their first three possessions and four of their first five to start the day. Eventually, with both sides rotating personnel and the offense catching the wrath of their coaches, Georgia started to move the ball a little better.

“I feel like the (No.) 1 offense kind of won the third-down challenge,” Smart said. “The (red zone) was kind of a toss-up. Two-minute, the offense won. I mean, it’s like back and forth. So, I could say all these good things the O-line did and all the bad things about the defensive line, and then it flips back and forth. I’m looking for a little bit more consistency. I certainly think that we have a very talented first group (on the) O-line and maybe a couple backups.”

The offensive line looks solid on the interior. The Bulldogs received a huge blessing when fourth-year junior Sedrick Van Pran decided to forego the NFL draft. He’s a legitimate All-American and a strong candidate for the Rimington Award, which goes annually to the nation’s best center. Junior Tate Ratledge and senior Xavier Truss are returning starters at right and left guard, respectively, though, competition at both spots remains intense.

Junior Amarius Mims (6-7, 330) takes over at right tackle, where he started the last two games of last season because of Warren McClendon’s injury. Redshirt freshman Earnest Greene III currently is winning the battle with junior Austin Blaske for the starting job at left tackle, though Blaske was somewhat limited Saturday while recovering from an illness.

Behind those six is a large group of highly regarded prospects. Including walk-ons, there are 19 offensive linemen from whom the Bulldogs can choose.

Meanwhile, with the first two games coming at home against Tennessee-Martin and Ball State, time is on the side of line coach Stacy Searels and Georgia’s offense. Many options will be considered, though tackle is the chief focus at the moment.

“Earnest has gotten more reps (at left tackle) than (Blaske) with the (No.) 1s, but I feel real good about Blaske,” Smart said. “Truss has kicked out there and played at tackle; Dylan Fairchild has played at tackle; Micah (Morris) has played at tackle. Obviously, Amarius has been able to flip and play both (right and left tackle). Monroe Freeling is a young kid that’s come in and gotten better every day. Chad (Lindberg) stays out there and plays.

“We have kind of a working committee because the last thing you want is to not have a tackle ready to play in a game. So, we’re always trying to develop that tackle position, knowing we have a lot of guards that go over there and play.”

The biggest positive for Georgia’s No. 1 offensive line is, after Sept. 1, it won’t have to compete against the Bulldogs’ No. 1 defense anymore.

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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